A deeply personal narrative extract from my upcoming book The Body and Leadership
Cambridge, 30th August to 1st September 1996
The Body Off Centre
I storm out of the pub into a stormy Cambridge night. Rain hisses like angry vipers as it hits my skin. I’m napalm. I’m rage incarnate. I’m hurt and I want to hurt. I could gouge out Buddha’ eyes. I’m not a violent man
Everything is clenched; my eyes are daggers looking to taste blood. My mind is entangled trying to process what I’ve just been accused of – I focus on the anger to block it out. I’m dragon’s breath; I’m Satan’s claws.
Around me are the sounds of a Friday night in gentrified student land. I don’t hear them. I know he’s followed behind as I demanded, when I turned over the table inside like Jesus’ evil brother. He ‘s angry too. She also followed and is weeping not the first time I’ve made the person I care most about cry. Her long dark hair is a mess, in the rain and tears but she’s still beauty made flesh. If I was thinking now I’d ask her to forgive me and walk away. I’m not a violent man
She pleads as her new boyfriend and I square up. We’re not violent men.
She runs off into the night, body collapsing and twisting. Everyone has a limit. When she left me for him – a friend – I wasn’t at mine. I understood, in my head at least, that it sometimes happens and that you can’t control people’s hearts. Tonight though I’d been pushed through that wall. Months of pain have just found an outlet. First-hate cuts deep. The alcohol and amphetamines don’t help, but even without them I’d still be a mindless, soulless and far from my centre.
The “fight” if you can call it that, is over in a few seconds. It was a pathetic scuffle really – neither of us know how to fight yet, we’re not violent men.
Mutual friends pulled us off. The hardest punch of the night was landed on the back of my head by someone who claimed to know Adam, but was probably just pissed and wanted trouble.
I went traveled home rocking and crying in the back of a friend’s car. My balls were up near my throat and I won’t sleep for days. I’m not a violent man.
The next day was my best friend James’ birthday and he was having a party as eighteen year olds are inclined to. My own was a few days a ago – I am now officially a man violent or otherwise. I celebrated the arrival of adulthood – what a joke- with the handful of people who stubbornly care for me despite how I am behaving. I got unconsciously drunk like I did every night. A photo of the night shows me skinny, shaven headed with a mad self destructive look in my eye, while friends look on not knowing how to help.
It had been a bad summer. While not working in the Victorian conditions of a bloody potato farm, I argued furiously with my parents as they with each other. Simply, I wasn’t happy. I missed her like the sky misses the wind, and needed to get the hell out of inbred-Dodge. Life in rural East Anglia, and with my disintegrating family, was already over. I needed to escape
Most of the people I’d met at sixth-form college found it hard to be around me now. I hurt and only way I knew how to express it was anger. On my 18th I didn’t want to remember the year before. We try and forget bad times, but sometimes it’s also painful to remember good ones – paradise thrown away.
A year before – my seventeenth birthday – had been the best day of my life. She and I had a had a beer with James, then we’d gone across the road to mine, watched TV till my parents went to sleep, then made love clumsily but wonderfully. Nothing special: everything special.
After that things had gone wrong. We were kids and didn’t know how to stay together. I didn’t know the value of what I had above all, and a million other excuses and after-the-event rationalizations.
Now I was back at James’. I’d screamed at her new man the night before that I would finish things the next day, as I knew he’d be there at the party.
I talked to my dad before coming over,
“I might have to fight this evening dad.”
“Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“No.” I lied. “It’s just a point of principle.
“Well…just keep going forward. That’s good advice my father gave me years ago for fighting.”
Keep going forward…I wanted to tell him all about it. I wanted him to hold me and understand, to let my body give up, but we’d never had that kind of relationship. We didn’t even know a language to have the conversation we needed to have in. A few years later the roles will be reversed. He was hurting from loosing my mum and we still didn’t know the language. It is so bloody stupid.
That night he showed and I showed. Neither of us started trouble, we’d calmed down, we’re not violent men.
Late at night I was walking across the road back to mine when I saw them arm in arm. They stopped for a moment in the moonlight, perhaps concerned as to what the staggering drunk wretch under the street lamp would do. I realized through the haze that there was nothing good I could do and I’d done enough wrong to these friends already. I held my bottle in the air to salute them, and stumbled to bed. He had the most wonderful girl in the world and I had a bottle of cheap red wine.
That night I didn’t sleep. I‘d seen a side to myself that I couldn’t bare to look at. I’d also found despair, real black despair for the first time in my life. I knew I wouldn’t be getting back together with her – ever. Loss only comes with acceptance for better and for worse. I’d never felt this bad before. Blackness isn’t a colour – it’s a nothing you reach at 4am when you really don’t want to live.
I cried till the sun came up. The dawn looks different through tears, especially when you’ve been up all night and you don’t want to see it.
I heard on the radio that Princess Diana had been killed in Paris. I went back to James’ house as people were waking up. I told people the big important news about the person they’d never met. I can only imagine how I looked, they must have thought I really liked ‘ole lady Di. James knew the real reason I was upset and hugged me while I sobbed and cursed the world. Thanks James, I love you.